Subject: Re: Free software and free music have some similar problems.
From: "Stephen J. Turnbull" <>
Date: Sat, 24 Jul 1999 09:38:16 +0900 (JST)

>>>>> "kms" == Karsten M Self <> writes:

    kms> Bernard Lang wrote:
    >> - researchers and academics do almost all the work, much more
    >> than in the entertainment business. With the web, publishers

This is true, but "all the work" is hardly limited to the research.  A 
lot of the work is editorial and paperwork.  In academic publications, 
many of those roles are filled by academics.  This is also true in
music, where musicians produce and even engineer each other's work.

The main distinction I see between the two industries is the
effectiveness of marketing: very much so in music, at least pop music,
and minimal in academic publication.

    >> are hardly needed. The few useful tasks could be bought
    >> directly from specialists (like copy editing).

    kms> Peer-reviewed journals _do_ offer the service of peer review,

I'd put that somewhat differently.  They offer the service of
strong-arming competent reviewers into doing competent reviews.

    kms> though in a webified world, this can be accomplished to some
    kms> extent by ratings sites substituting for journals.  Another
    kms> significant

If by "ratings sites" you mean like slashdot's up down, or Amazon's
reviews, I think not.  I read articles in a few journals based on
title; I read articles in a few others because of the authors.  Other
journals' articles I read only when I am following a citation.  Why
does a journal fall into one of the former classes?  Because the
editorial policy is strict and reliably so.

No-name ratings and access stats are not sufficient.  Editorial
continuity is crucial (although it may not be the editors, but rather
simply that the best authors congregate in those venues).

    kms> attribute of hardcopy publication is archival.  Paper is
    kms> still a reasonably good, stable, accessible, and convertable
    kms> medium.  A printing date tends to fix publications in time in
    kms> a way which doesn't necessarily happen on the web.

This is a very important point.  Music generally doesn't include
cross-references (especially since the demise of the knowledgable DJ).

More important is that URLs tend to disappear.  This is changing, but
it will not change for self-published documents; consistent
availability of self-published stuff will be subject to individual

Medium doesn't matter.  It will become cheaper to distribute, cheaper
to archive.  But the filter function is still the bottleneck, and
other aspects of good management will be important (but commoditizable 
via publishing companies).

    kms> Merely moving existing journals from print to web would not
    kms> result in much cost savings.  Direct publication on the part
    kms> of authors is, of course, another matter.

It will be interesting to see what happens with respect to eg
Nobel-prize-winners.  At present, they get paid honoraria (in
economics, anyway) for speaking at conferences but not for publication
of research reports.  I wonder if that will change as information
overload becomes ever more burdensome.  Will journals start to pay for
stars' papers to increase their visibility?  (This is done indirectly
by having "conference issues" of a journal and then subsidizing
participation of the stars in the conference, but that's not very
effective because of the enormous overhead accosiated with

    >> so there is every reason to bypass the publishers, except for
    >> one social factor. To advance in his career, the academic must
    >> publish in good journals, and those titles are for the moment
    >> owned by the publishers. Publishing in them reinforces their

They're owned by publishers because somebody needs to pay the
secretaries, print and bind the volumes, do the billing, etc.
Publishers do these things reliably, and will continue to do so in the 
Internet age.  Paper publishers who are slow to move to digital media
may die; we may find that Yahoo is the most important publisher of
medical research in 2020.  But publishers aren't going to disappear.

    >> academic importance at the expense of the academic community.

Au contraire.  Journals function as filters.  As a referee, I have
accepted about 15% of papers I've been asked to review, and never on
the first round.  (This is biased, however; two of the editors who
send stuff to me most often have told me they do so because they know
I'll give careful reviews to prima facie rejectable papers.  Editors
often owe favors to authors, or more likely their thesis advisors....
Still, there is far more garbage out there than competently done _and
presented_ research.)

Do you grind your coffee beans directly into the cup?  I don't.

    >> It will take some time before new, free, electronic titles are
    >> strong enough to take the place of existing ones.

Yes.  Probably exactly the same amount of time it takes a new print
journal to establish itself as having a reliable editorial policy.

And they'll have to make space for themselves either by pushing other
journals (presumably print ones) down the stack on researchers' desks, 
or by finding a useful specialized niche; same as new print ones.

But "free"?  I doubt it.

    kms> There are a number of websites devoted to the publication of
    kms> academic papers, particularly working papers.  I'd expect
    kms> this trend to grow.

And mutate into a new breed of journal.  And novice and innovative
academics will continue to wail (with some justification) about the
stranglehold the most respected ones have on wide distribution of
academic publications.

The only thing that could change this is a revolution in indexing

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